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Paul Ryan as Punchline: The Impending Failure of the AHCA

Heard any good jokes lately?

Guy walks into a bar. Second guy ducks.

This is, far and away, the worst “Guy walks into a bar” joke in the history of the franchise. Makes “A million ducks…” and “The twelve-inch pianist…” seem Shakespearean by comparison. Somehow, though, it still manages to amuse on a gutter slapstick level; a dude getting racked in the noodle is never not funny, and his friend avoiding the same fate just makes it complete.

It’s even funnier when you see it in real life.

The story in brief: House Speaker Paul Ryan chose yesterday, the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act into law, to be the day when congressional Republicans, along with President Trump, finally fulfilled their long-running promise to repeal Obamacare. The American Health Care Act, brainchild of Speaker Ryan, was ready to take the stage and rescue us all.

There were some flies in the ointment, to be sure. The bill as it stood, according to CBO scoring, would immediately strip millions of their health insurance. It was a massive tax cut for rich people. It would obliterate Medicaid as we’ve known it. It would deliver a deep and profound injustice to children and old people of every stripe, and would further do a big number on the same rural poor people who elected Donald Trump in the first place. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows a galloping 17 percent approval for the AHCA, a number that is sure to dwindle once more people find out just how much rat meat is in the stew.

Speaker Ryan’s prescription for the pain? Speed. Get the thing passed and punted out of the House, let the Senate finish painting the corners, drop it on Donald’s desk for a signature, and they can all lean back and say, “Look, see? We keep our promises.” He spent Wednesday and the first part of Thursday delivering a one-man pep rally — “this will pass, this will pass, it is the best thing ever …” — until DONK, he walked into a bar called the House Freedom Caucus, and everything fell apart. Just before 4pm on Thursday, Ryan was forced to make the humiliating announcement: No vote today.

You gotta love those Freedom Caucus dudes. It’s not often one gets to see actual ultra-conservative caricatures come to life, wear ties and say things to cameras in the Capitol Rotunda. What they were saying, more than anything else, was “No” to the AHCA, but not for any normal human reasons. It did not bother them that the bill was cruel; what bothered them was that it wasn’t cruel enough.

In order to meet the approval of the Freedom Caucus, the drafters of the AHCA needed to agree to remove, among other things, what are called “essential benefits” which would be available to everyone. Among these are maternity and newborn care, emergency room services, laboratory services and pediatric services. Babies, mothers, seriously injured people and finding out what’s wrong … no big deal, right? One Freedom Caucus member allegedly wanted to hold out for a provision that would allow him to stab you in the knee once a week, but this was deemed a bridge too far.

So now there’s a Ryan-shaped dent in the wall at Freedom Caucus headquarters. Ryan’s friend, the president, had the wherewithal to duck: “President Trump delivered an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Vote to approve the measure to overhaul the nation’s health-care system on the House floor Friday, or reject it and the president will move on to his other legislative priorities.” Trump is pissed at his own staffers, pissed at the Speaker’s office, pissed at the Freedom Caucus, and just basically pissed … but he’s not holding the bag on this one. This is Ryan’s fudge, and he gets to cook it all by his lonesome.

Word has it the arm-twisting on the AHCA continues unabated, and a new vote will be called this afternoon. This space will be updated as circumstances warrant, but I wouldn’t expect any surprises. People tend to jump off sinking ships, not jump on, and the longer this thing lingers more than a dozen votes short of passage, the more likely it is the defections will increase.

The fact is, it doesn’t much matter. The bill could pass; introduce enough arms to enough torque and you can pass practically anything. But the truth of the matter is Ryan could offer up a recipe for bean dip and get it passed, and it would still be dead on arrival in the Senate. However you choose to slice it, the anti-Obamacare “revolution” has proven to be a truly spectacular failure.

Speaking of the Senate, it should be noted that Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer has signaled his party’s intent to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination. Such an action would require Senate Republicans to find 60 votes to pass him — they currently have 52 — or radically rewrite the filibuster rules to do away with that 60-vote threshold. It’s been a long time since Congress was this wild, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Millions of lives are in the balance here. That being said, take a moment and consider where we stand. It takes a magical amount of failure to turn the threat of a filibustered Supreme Court nominee into back-page news, but Paul Ryan and the Freedom Caucus have managed to do exactly that.

Heard any good jokes lately?

UPDATE 3:52 P.M. Eastern Time: “House Republican leaders abruptly pulled a Republican rewrite of the nation’s health-care system from consideration on Friday, a dramatic acknowledgment that they are so far unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act. ‘We just pulled it,’ President Trump told The Washington Post in a telephone interview.” — Washington Post 03/24/2017

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